With a restaurant guide under his belt, a website on vegetarian recipes up his sleeve and expansion plans for Green Monday in full swing, there's no letting up for healthy eating advocate David Yeung, writes Elaine Yau
A vegetarian for 13 years, David Yeung finds it difficult to eat green in Hong Kong. To give passionate vegetarians like him better choices for dining places, Yeung wrote a book highlighting good vegetarian restaurants and giving tips on how to eat green.
Go Green 88 Restaurant Guide, published in January, is among the ventures the 37-year-old has launched to expand his business in promoting a green and healthy lifestyle.
In 2012, together with Social Ventures Hong Kong founder Francis Ngai Wah-sing, Yeung set up Green Monday, a non-profit social enterprise which promotes eating healthier foods and encourages people to adopt a vegetarian diet every Monday.
Within two years, Green Monday has achieved considerably boosted interest vegetarianism in the city. More than 1,000 restaurants, including Cafe de Coral and Caffe Habitu, now offer vegetarian options on Mondays. The scheme has also been well received by schools and students, a good thing considering Hong Kong children have an obesity rate of 26 per cent among boys, and 16 per cent among girls. Eighteen school lunch suppliers, covering 500 schools and 400,000 students, have pledged support.
Not content with this success, Yeung says they will soon launch an online platform featuring vegetarian recipes, videos on how to make vegetarian dishes, a list of suppliers of vegetarian food in the city and healthy eating tips.
"We want to provide a one-stop solution to people who want to eat healthier," says Yeung, who is also chairman of high-end optical store Visual Culture and multi-label fashion shop Shine.
"People often have no idea about how to cook vegetarian meals at home. They think vegetarian meals mean only vegetables and salads. There are lots of other food ingredients on offer like mushrooms, nuts, seeds and soya products."
Yeung became vegetarian 13 years ago while living in New York. He was spoiled for choice there, but found Hong Kong lagging behind in dining options when he returned in 2005.
Of the 88 outlets highlighted in Go Green 88 Restaurant Guide, only 28 are dedicated vegetarian eateries. But Yeung says eating vegetarian does not mean dining only at vegetarian restaurants.
"In the past, when I dined out with friends, they always went to vegetarian restaurants for my sake. But later I heard that they had to eat again after dinner, as they were not really full . . .
"But meat-eaters and vegetarians are not mutually exclusive. There are now many ordinary restaurants that provide a wide range of choices of vegetarian dishes.
"I order vegetarian, and my friends order meat. When my friends see my dish, they want to try it, and they fall in love with it. It is a soft approach to encouraging people to eat vegetarian," he says.
Ming Court at Langham Place hotel in Mong Kok is highlighted in Go Green 88 Restaurant Guide. The Chinese restaurant uses mushrooms in a lot of fusion dishes such as its black truffle tofu appetiser, Yeung says. It also offers rustic fare like eggplant steamed with preserved vegetables.
For everyday fare, the guide recommends Tsui Wah Restaurant, which serves stir-fried instant noodles with assorted mushrooms served on a hot plate and a vegetarian version of Singaporean fried rice vermicelli.
There's even street fare like Fat Kee Congee and Noodles in Tai Po market, which makes a vegetarian version of tang jai jook or boat congee, which typically contains dried squid, peanuts, century eggs, pork shreds and pork skin.
Also mentioned in the guide is Namkee H in Central, a healthier spin-off of the original Nam Kee noodle chain, which has noodles in a tomato broth with burdock root balls and golden mushroom.
"In the past, Namkee only had one vegetarian soup noodle. Now they have four," Yeung says.
He notes that vegetarians in Hong Kong tend to limit themselves to Cantonese vegetarian eateries, which usually use lots of oil and condiments to compensate for the lack of meat flavour. Such eateries also offer mock-meat options, which use wheat gluten to simulate the texture of pork or beef.
While Yeung acknowledges that mock meat can help people transition to a vegetarian diet, eating too much of it "defeats the purpose of going vegetarian".
"Vegetarians enjoy the taste of natural food like avocado and beetroot," he says. "There are lots of Thai, Italian and Indian vegetarian dishes which do not use artificial meat. They use natural spices, sauces and dressings.
"New vegetarians can try Italian fare, including salad, wild mushroom pasta and margherita pizza, which are all vegetarian."
In 2010, the UN pledged to support a global initiative to promote a meat- and dairy-free diet. A report by its International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management warned that a Western diet rich in meat and dairy products was not sustainable for a global population that could be 9.1 billion by 2050.
The UN also reports that livestock used to produce foods for the meat industry are responsible for nearly one fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the US Department of Agriculture's 2011 livestock and poultry trade forecast, Hong Kong has more meat eaters, per capita consumption per year, than anywhere in the world.
Hongkongers have been the biggest meat eaters in the world since 2008, says Yeung.
"Our meat consumption is 30 per cent more than the US, where meat consumption has been decreasing over the years. In Holland, half the population are flexitarians who have a mixed diet of meat and vegetarian dishes.
"The pressing issue of over-consumption of meat in Asia has to be addressed, as excessive consumption often leads to obesity, heart disease, colon and breast cancer," he says.
Health experts say that a vegetarian diet is healthy if it is low in fat, high in fibre, and includes lots of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are compounds in plants that are responsible for colour and generating smells and tastes, such as the purple in blueberries and the aroma of garlic. Phytochemicals and antioxidants are reported to help prevent and treat health conditions such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Yeung says Green Monday's next aim is to set up shop in Shanghai. Its China ambassador, Liu Xuan, an Olympic champion on the balance beam at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, recently kicked off Green Monday in Tsinghua University in Beijing.
While eating healthier for just one day a week won't greatly improve one's health, Yeung says the idea is to make it easier for people to modify their habits.